In my never ending journey to be a better person, I scan somewhere around five to a dozen articles on the environment, racism, homo & transphobia, misogyny, and all the other -isms and -phobias -every single day. I usually read three to five of the better ones. I share some to my social media. And occasionally (about once or twice a month) something hits me right between the eyes…or in the heart.
This one did the other day…
White people, it’s not about what sort of person you are. It’s about what you’re capable of. Even if you do a lot of good and become the epitome of the perfect White anti-racist, you are capable of a lot of harm. So long as we live in a White supremacist society, you will always be capable of a lot of harm.Dear White People: Yes, I Am Talking About You by Savannah Worley
But that was not the bit which ‘bothered me.’ In that article, Worley questioned:
I often wonder what White people’s intentions are when they dive into the world of anti-racism and read about Black and Brown people’s experiences. Typically, I hear and read, “I want to do better.” But do better at what? I’ve never seen any White person elaborate.
Her experience is that many times ‘good white people’ are actually more concerned about not being seen as racist than doing the work to not be racist. And she’s right, no one wants to be seen or called a racist. But as another writer pointed out:
How could we (white people) not be inherently racist when we were brought up in a society in which every fiber of its fabric is woven together by white supremacy? This is not to say that we should rest easy because everyone else is racist; it means once we get comfortable with the discomfort of being labeled a racist, we can begin to address the ways in which we as individuals uphold white supremacy, and hold each other accountable along the way.White Women: Admitting We’re All Racist is the First Step to Dismantling White Supremacy by Bailey Jane Borchardt
In that article Borchardt, she uses the term ‘good white person.’ And I got it. A light bulb went off. As I said in my previous blog, Raised Racist, growing up in my family the N-word was used as we would People of Color. I remember once saying something about it, I suppose I have always felt this way. I was told, ‘Terri Lynn, that’s just what ‘they’ are. Just like with white folks, they’s good (N-word) and they’s bad ones.’ So to see the words ‘good white person’ resonated with something inside of me.
Back to Savannah’s question, I cannot speak for all white people, only this one. But I do want to elaborate.
From the time I escape my white supremacist upbringing, I have tried to ‘do better.’ No simply with racism but with sexism, homophobia, and all those other hates I was taught. I raised a multi-cultural family of three blonds/blue eyes, two Latinos (technically speaking one of whom is indigenous), and a bi-racial/multi-cultural young woman of color. I married a black man. My best girlfriends were usually black women. And as an autistic person, I appreciate the tell-it-like-it-is nature of my friends of color. In short, I lived on the fence. A life that was half my white privilege unless, of course, I was with my black friend, lover, or child. In which case, yes, there is an element of ‘guilt by association.’
But I am saddened to say…for the much greater part, I kept silent. It was not because I did not know that prejudice was wrong. Or because I was afraid of what others would think about me. By my fourth decade, I had grown up enough that I did not and do not give a damn about what anyone other than the woman in the mirror and a few very close loved ones think. And even then, no one, and I mean NO ONE’s opinion matters more than Mirror Woman. I do what my conscious tells me is right. No matter the consequences. I won’t say I’m perfect with that. But I do better than most people. And more importantly, enough to be on fairly good terms with Mirror Woman.
So, why did I keep quiet for so long?
Because I did not think it was my place.
Yes, I feared stepping on black and brown toes. Honestly, I feared being judged by Savannah. Of doing or saying something wrong or offensive. Anything that might take the limelight off the true ‘victims’ of prejudice.
So, what changed that? Why did I come out of the ‘woke’ closet and start speaking up?
The death of a pretty young white woman. Yeah, I know that sounds strange. Frankly, perhaps offensive. But the murder of Sarah Everard got me thinking. I realized then that as a woman I had done all that I could do by raising four sons not to be misogynistic assholes. But that until men began to stand up to other men and say, ‘Dude, that’s not cool. That’s misogynistic and wrong,’ then all the laws and women’s protests in the world would never make our streets safe for women to walk home at night. Or in broad daylight. Or even feel safe in their own homes. Men have to call out toxic masculinity and misogyny.
And white people have to call out racism.
So, Savannah, you asked me to elaborate on ‘do better at what?’ My answer is…
All of it. Not because I want to be seen as a ‘good white person.’ By you or anyone else. I can no longer be remain quiet about racism, or sit at the back of the civil rights bus, because this is my problem. My family perpetuated it. It’s my responsibility to end it. On my watch.
Am I still worried about how others will see me? Yes, and I won’t always get it right. I will say the wrong thing. I will do too much or not enough. Because I’m still untangling my mess. I apologize in advance. And call me on it. I will apologize again. And do better. It’s gonna be a lifelong process for me. Because there are nasty bugs in my programming. But I am doing my best so that those bugs aren’t in the next gen release of our human software.
So yeah, I speak out about racism. And homo/transphobia. Ageism. Misogyny. Ableism. And the environment. I put my money and time where this big mouth is. And no, I don’t want or need praise.
In fact, that’s probably another reason that I haven’t spoken more often or louder. As an autistic person, I’m not very comfortable in the spotlight. So, whether it is donating to the local food pantry, litter picking the local park, my writing, or supporting other creatives, I prefer to do things anonymously. And I will this one too…as much as I can.
But sometimes, being a loud-mouthed, opinionated, middle-aged white woman (aka Karen) is a necessity. I just make damned sure if I’m gonna speak out I try to do it for the right reasons. I hope and think I am this time. But yeah, this is my fight. Does that make me a ‘good white person?’ No. I’m just as deeply flawed a human as the next person. And yeah, I’m still unpacking a lifetime of those deeply engrained white supremacy programming. And I’m reading and tweeting poems by black writers, watching black movies, and re-learning our history in an attempt to do so.
I hope I answered your question, Savannah. Of course, I can only speak for myself. But that’s what I mean when I say, ‘I am doing better.’ Maybe too late or not enough or too much or… But I do it all for the simple reason…
It’s the right thing to do. What a decent human being is supposed to.
Goddess bless us all on this journey, may we all do better every single day,